28 years after Oklahoma City bombing, OU professors examine roots of domestic terrorism in US | News

Second Amendment

In the days after the Oklahoma City bombing 28 years ago this week, “We will never forget” was a phrase that took hold in a community rocked by the worst homegrown act of terrorism the nation had ever experienced.  

168 people, including 19 children and one OU student were killed. This week, as Oklahomans honor and commemorate them, some OU professors wonder if the nation at large, and Oklahomans in particular, have, in fact, forgotten the roots of what happened on April 19, 1995. 

Three weeks ago, former U.S. President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Waco, Texas. The rally took place during the anniversary of a government siege of illegally manufactured machine guns against David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians. What took place was a 51-day standoff that left nearly 80 people dead. 

The Waco massacre fed into the narrative that the government intended to infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. During the rally, Trump uttered several dog whistles, vowing “retribution” and saying, “I am your warrior, I am your justice,” in an effort to adhere to an audience that has historically supported anti-government rhetoric. 

Timothy McVeigh, a United States Army veteran, represented the disgruntled American who felt alienated from society. His attack in Oklahoma City served to be an atrocity that other extremists sought to replicate. 

In the 28 years since the attack, the Department of Homeland Security has identified hundreds of homegrown acts of domestic terrorism. Oklahoma in particular has seen a surge in white supremacist incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

McVeigh witnessed the government siege in Waco confirming his belief that the government intended to disarm people like him. April 19 became a significant date for right-wing extremists as it marks both the ending of the Waco standoff in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. 

As Wednesday marked the 28th anniversary of the bombing, OU professors examined how white supremacist values and other far-right ideologies led to the tragedy.  

On April 19, 1995, McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, executing the biggest homegrown attack in U.S. history. The U.S Department of Justice linked several far-right ideologies and incidents to McVeigh’s motivation for the bombing, including the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge and the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas.

Michael Givel, an OU political science professor, said the sieges fed into the ultra-right conspiracy fantasies of the government attempting to take guns from Americans.

“This is what Timothy McVeigh was enraged about, … agencies that are there in and around the Branch Davidian compound. The idea that these were agents of the evil cabal that are out to get the ‘good people’,” Givel said.

McVeigh was in attendance at the Waco siege as a spectator and sold pro-gun merchandise to crowds that gathered on a hill three miles from the standoff. 

He was also a fan of the infamous Turner Diaries, Givel said, a dystopian novel written in 1978 by a Neo-Nazi, depicting a world where the government has confiscated all guns and minorities enact anti-white laws. According to the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization, the Turner Diaries has historically served as a guidebook for white supremacist organizations. 

According to Givel, a fear of racial mixing is one of the reasons far-right individuals fall into extremism. 

“There is a permanency to this threat to the supposed wholesome values of (white men). Sexuality, particularly patriarchy, and male dominance play a very prominent role in this,” Givel said. “That’s part of what people are saying when they want to go back to a mythic past of white male dominance.”

The ideas of white supremacy may have operated as the precursor to McVeigh’s descent into extremism and the dozens of far-right domestic attacks that were followed by people who shared the same values, according to the Anti-Defamation League.  

Young white men who believe Christianity is synonymous with white American culture are the ones falling into white supremacist ideology, Samuel Perry, an OU sociology professor, said. 

In recent years, deadly attacks in Buffalo, New York; Charleston, South Carolina; and Pittsburgh shootings were all committed by shooters who viewed the white race as under threat. 

In May 2022, a white 18-year-old gunman walked into a supermarket and shot 13 people and killed 10 in Buffalo. Of the 13 people shot, 10 were Black. An alleged manifesto written by the gunman online revealed he believed in the Great Replacement Theory, a conspiracy that white people are being strategically replaced by minorities.  

The January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in 2021 also serves as an example of far-right distrust of the government. Supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol building after being told the government lied to them about election results

“What ties them all together is a perception that they are being persecuted, and not just they personally are being persecuted, but people like them, people like us are being persecuted, that is white, American patriot, Second Amendment loving Christian people, and that the government is doing it,” Perry said. 

Perry said some disillusioned white men have been under the impression that the government is out to get them, fueling some to turn to white supremacist views. He said many have also adopted a bastardized version of Christianity to use as a dog whistle in rallying others who feel the same way. 

“They’re conspiratorial, and they believe there are all these kinds of secretive attempts and plots to take away their guns and the government has been plotting against good God-fearing American patriots and this is a kind of plot from the left, who is in control of everything,” Perry said. 

In 2023, there have been at least 160 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive. Earlier in April, OU was victim to a false report of an active shooter on campus

In court, McVeigh said the government fears people owning guns because it limits its control. He said the U.S. was slowly turning into a socialist country and more people needed to arm themselves to be ready for an attack. 

According to the Small Arms Survey database, the U.S. has more guns than people. Despite the number of guns, the idea that the government is seeking to physically force firearms out of people’s hands is ever-present in right-wing circles, according to Perry. 

“It is the result of propaganda and it’s the result of intentional campaigning by the (National Rifle Association) and other right-wing organizations,” Perry said. “If you’re the kind of person who feels like the government, the leftist, socialist government, the elites and the people in power are out to get you, then you’re going to claim what you feel like is your lone chance of defending yourself and that is the Second Amendment.” 

According to a study conducted by Perry in February, the further Americans fall on the right side of the political spectrum, the more likely they are to value the Second Amendment over any other amendment. 

The Oklahoma City bombing remains the biggest homegrown attack in U.S. history 28 years later. In 2020, the Anti-Defamation League reported McVeigh’s anti-government ideals are surging in new white supremacist organizations. 

Just two years later, the Anti-Defamation League reported there were over 169 white supremacist incidents in Oklahoma, a 164 percent increase from 2021. One of the most prevalent white supremacist groups in the state is the Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang.

Givel said America’s problem with extremism is that the U.S. has never properly dealt with its racist history and that its inability to be honest with the past has spurred delusion in people like McVeigh. 

“This society has a lot of work to do,” Givel said. “There’s a view of history that there were no perpetrators of any kind of evil actions in the past … and from a historical point of view (that) is nonsense.” 

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement recognizing the lives lost during the bombing and commemorating the resilience the Oklahoma City community demonstrated after the event. Garland led the investigation and prosecution after the bombing.

He said the U.S. Department of Justice recommits taking action to prevent another event like the Oklahoma City bombing. The department remains vigilant in the face of the threat posed by domestic terrorism and remains committed to holding the people who perpetrate such attacks accountable, he said. 

“We will never forget what happened in Oklahoma City on April 19,” Garland said. “We will never stop telling and retelling the story of that day, and of how the Oklahoma City community responded to hatred and division with compassion and unity. And we will never stop working to honor the memories of those we lost.”

This story was edited by Alexia Aston, Jazz Wolfe and Karoline Leonard. Nikkie Aisha copy edited this story.

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